Cultural Vultures

Life in ‘official’ slim stip

By Poonam I Kaushish

Democracy is a conflict of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. A succinct saying which aptly nails the ongoing maelstrom over two films: Padmavati a story of a Rajput Queen and a documentary which depicts Arvind Kejriwal as a hero and the petitioner, who threw ink at him, a convict. Welcome to the latest season of the Culture of Protests and the Ugly Intolerant Indian!
Unheard of Rajasthan’s fringe groups Karni Sena, Rashtriya Ekatha Manch and former Jaipur royals want a complete ban on the movie as it shows the Queen in bad light. UP Chief Minister Yogi has said the film’s release could pose a law and order problem. Added a Haryana Minister, “glamourising Alauddin Khilji’s character is akin to praising those who carry out acid attacks on girls” and in Gujarat’s Surat thousands took out a protest march.
Alas, the power of rhetorical public abuse and remonstrations by random Hindutva outfits underscores the discourse is not only becoming increasingly rabble rousing, abusive and devoid of any substance but also tilted towards widening the communal divide.
A classic case of “ideological intolerance” by Hindutva brigands who enjoy patronage of the RSS largesse as opposed to Nehruvian or Left ideology and beliefs of the present ruling dispensation. Either way, the protests once again strips India of all balance and open-mindedness wherein intolerance and violence is the rhetoric of the times.
Raising a moot point: What is about the film that it needs to be banned or else? How does exercising one’s freedom of expression tantamount to distorting history? Is the NDA crushing free speech, suppressing debate and dissent which are essential pre-requisites of creative and thinking minds? Is it afraid of clash of ideas? Have we lost the ability to accept criticism? Bordering on a narcissist phobia?
Questionably, are threats, fear and coercion the new grammar of Naya Bharat’s political ecosystem? Is the polity afraid of the clash of ideas? Is India in the midst of political intolerance with Hindutva values thrust down our throats? Are we so paranoid or intolerant that any act of laughter, joke, film or perceived bigotry is viewed as twisting facts? How does merely criticizing a film tantamount to spreading “hatred”?
In this eddy of tu-tu-mein-mein kudos to the Supreme Court which underlined that freedom of speech and expression are “sacrosanct” and “should not be ordinarily interfered with. An artist has his own freedom to express himself in a manner which is not prohibited in law and such prohibition is not read by implication to crucify the rights of expressive mind.”
Hopefully, this should end the outpourings of bigotry against a book, film or artwork which pokes fun or is not in sync with a fringe group or community’s thinking. Recall, in 2007, a Buddhist group filed a complaint against actress Rakhi Sawant because she posed in a bathtub against a Lord Buddha statue. Or cases against famous painter MF Husain for painting Bharat Mata as a naked woman, hurting religious sentiments.
Indeed, How does one control the hate mongers and blunt them? Would it not only further divide the people on creed lines but is also antithetical to hope of narrowing India’s burgeoning religious divide, thereby unleashing a Frankenstein.
Sadly, this is not the first time noises have been made by narrow sectarian groups. Many films, books even cartoons have been banned, innumerable artists have faced taboo and forced out in a country which prides itself for being the birthplace of apostles of peace and non-violence —— Gandhi, Buddha and Mahavir.
Undeniably, cut-throat communalism is at work. Whereby, these rabid outfits with the backing of our netas have made the Hindu-Muslim vote-bank the tour de force of politics. With every leader propounding his self-serving recipe of ‘communal’ harmony: To keep gullible vote-banks emotionally charged so that their ulterior motives are served. Never mind, the nation is getting sucked into the vortex of centrifugal bickerings.
If one doesn’t like a film collect a crowd and burn theaters. If you don’t like a novelist’s book get the Government to ban it or issue a fatwa against the author. Remember, an innocuous cartoonist was arrested for sedition by Mamata in Kolkata and renowned cartoonist Shankar’s Ambedkar’s caricatures in NCERT school books were posthumously removed. Tamil Nadu banned noted actor-director Kamal Hasan’s 100 crores magna opus Viswaroopam which dealt with terrorism on the fallacious ground it would hurt the sentiments of ‘unknown’ Muslim groups and create a law and order problem.
Tragically, our leaders exploit the peoples emotions and only look at what will help popularize them and increase votebanks. Even if it tantamounts to cultural terrorism. See how the Shiv Sena forced cancellation of Pakistani Ghazal singer Ghulam Ali’s concert in Mumbai and its cadres disrupted a BCCI meeting for reviving Indi-Pak cricket ties.
Shah Rukh Khan was cornered for saying what it is to be a Muslim in India, getting caught in the crosshairs of an unseemly Indo-Pak spat leading him to say he was a proud Indian. The Rajasthan Government registering an FIR against sociologist Ashis Nandy for his controversial remarks on SC/ST corruption at the 2013 Jaipur Literature Festival. Livid Dalit icons BSP’s Mayawati and LJP’s Ram Vilas Paswan forced him to get a stay from the Supreme Court.
Bluntly, even as we are politically and economically free we remain hostage to society’s errant elements which the political class exploits. Consequently, rabid outfits like Ram Sene and Jamai’at-ul-Ulma-I-Hind proliferate and act with impunity because authorities are reluctant to take action against them. Sadly, increasing hooliganism exposes the continuing failure of law and order with the BJP disinclined or unable to rein in its cohorts.
Clearly, India is in the grip of self-styled chauvinism and cultural dogmas wherein writers, intellectuals, historians or hoi polloi are soft targets with imprudent reactions taking over debates and calibrated decisions. Life is lived in the slim strip called the official and every joke, wit, satire or defiance treated as a monster. Big deal if this makes public discourse impoverished and toothless.
At the present reckoning, we might remain indefinitely trapped in divisive rhetoric. Unfortunately, most Indians do not care. Absence of national character and indiscipline has led to a creeping paralysis of ‘sab chalta hai’.
Where do we go from here? Pander to rabid rabble rousers and vote banks politics? Is the Government capable of defusing this treacherous powder keg? Notably, no licence should be given to anyone from any background to spread ill-feeling or hatred towards any historical person, leader or community who do not see themselves as Ram-Rahim-Jesus children.
The Centre and State Governments cannot pass the buck to each other for ongoing madness. Our leaders should raise the bar on public discourse, not lower it any more than has been done. Certainly, freedom of speech and expression enshrined in our Constitution is sacrosanct and inviolable which needs to be cherished and protected.
The message has to go out clearly that no person, group or organization can threaten violence, and if they do, they lose their democratic right to be heard. India could do without those who distort politics and in turn destroy democracy and laughter. It’s time to control the hate mongers and blunt them.
In sum, we need to desist from acerbic speeches and narrow-mindedness. Criticism is a sign of a thriving and robust democracy. India could do without people who destroys democracy and laughter. ——— INFA.